Making It Work

9.4.2007

By Bill Keith

For three seasons, Tim Gunn has maintained Project Runway's maelstrom of fashion designers'those budding in the workroom as well as those preening in the judges' chairs'and helped shape the program into one of the most compulsively watchable serials in recent history. And if reality-show stardom signaled a second act for the former fashion design chair at Parsons the New School for Design, his appointment in March as chief creative officer of Liz Claiborne Inc. is yet a third for the 54-year-old. When not busy overseeing Claiborne's 45 brands, including Juicy Couture, Lucky Brand, and Kate Spade, he's managed to film a fourth season of Runway (expected to premiere late this year) and is about to debut his latest Bravo venture, Tim Gunn's Guide to Style, a makeover show based on principles laid out in his book Tim Gunn: A Guide to Quality, Taste & Style.

You're quick to point out that Guide to Style isn't a typical makeover show.
I'm not a fashion Svengali. I don't throw clothes at you and tell you if you wear these things. all your fashion foibles will go away. I'm a fashion therapist.

But the tagline of your show is 'Your Style, Tim's Rules.'
I'd prefer to call it 'the little black dress of makeover shows,' but there are two maxims that I subscribe to: One is about fit, and the other is about posture. I had a guy come up to me on the subway platform a couple of months ago who said, 'How do I get my suits to fit better?' I walked around him and said, 'I'm going to give you the simplest solution in the world, and forgive me if it sounds abrupt and rude, but just stand up straight!' He did, and looked much better.

And what about fit?
People reveal too much skin, especially when it's the midriff, and I hate low-rise jeans. And I'm talking about guys. If you're wearing a shirt that fits you and pants that fit you, I know what's under there. I can tell. Give me a little mystery. I don't want to see all that.

Your show can't have only two rules. It would last 10 minutes.
When we look in the mirror, most of us see somebody other than who we really are. It's almost like phantom limbs, when your legs are gone but you think you still have them. You look in the mirror and you really see somebody else.

How does your show help people see themselves more accurately?
We have an amazing computer software program called OptiTex that is used at Parsons. It takes 25 measurements of a subject and creates a virtual model you can dress in whatever you want. You can rotate it and throw several different styles of clothing on it to see what works and what doesn't.

Have you done one of yourself?
No! I'm too afraid. Nothing is taking 25 measurements of me.

You've long been confident in what works for you though, right?
I met with Diane von Furstenberg shortly after I was named head of the fashion department, and she was looking at me like I was some stodgy old banker. I'd been trapped in academia for 20 years. I realized I needed some edge. That's when my quest for a black leather blazer began.

To get your edge?
Yes, and I found a stunning $800 Hugo Boss blazer at Saks and just bought it. I walked across Fifth Avenue in a fashion daze. A fashion daze! I was overwhelmed, so I thought, Why don't I go into Banana Republic and get a pair of khakis? That will be a nice antidote to this.

But you were off to such a good start.
No! I went into Banana Republic, and Khakiland was gone. It was a whole new world. I found a $400 black leather blazer that was almost identical to the Hugo Boss one. I've been a Banana Republic customer ever since. I wore a suit of theirs at the shoot today.

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